“As we thought of you,” Mamaw replied. “Lord, we have so much to catch up on. And plan. And celebrate. I hear wedding bells!”
“Isn’t it all too exciting?” Granny James replied, though her tone was weary. “I simply must get out of these travel clothes first.” She turned to Taylor. “Thank you for hoisting all my luggage. It’s at moments like these I’m delighted my granddaughter is marrying such a strapping young man.”
Peering into the rear, Harper saw a steamer trunk and two large suitcases.
“Good Lord, Granny, what did you bring?”
“Only the necessities, dear. We’re having a wedding, after all. Parties and dinners. One can’t be too prepared.” She lifted a white leather bag with a heavy, locked clasp. “I carry my jewels in my hands, of course. One can’t be too careful.” She sniffed and said as an aside, “My other things will come along at a later date.”
“Why yes, dear. We’ll talk about that later,” she said in a hushed voice before turning to Marietta with a beaming smile.
Taylor headed toward the front stairs with the two suitcases.
“Oh no, dear,” Imogene called after him. “I’m staying in the cottage.” She turned to Harper. “Isn’t that right, dear?”
Harper froze like a deer in the headlights. “Uh, no. I’ve put you in the main house. Closer to me.”
“Oh.” Granny James’s smile fell. “But I do love my little cottage.”
Harper exchanged a quick glance with Mamaw.
Mamaw spoke up. “Actually, Imogene, I’ve moved into the cottage. To give the young ones space of their own.”
“You’ve moved into my cottage?” Imogene asked with no doubt of her displeasure.
“I wasn’t aware that it was your cottage,” Marietta replied, taken aback.
“But of course. It was understood. I said I’d be back.”
“And so you are,” Marietta replied evenly. “And you have a lovely room for your visit.”
Harper watched the exchange, felt the sudden chill, and worse, saw the old competition between the Grande Dames spark again.
“My darling grandmothers,” Harper intervened. “We are all here, together. That is what matters. Not where one sleeps.”
Pink blotches appeared on Granny James’s cheeks as she pinched her lips tight.
“Let’s not spoil your homecoming with arguments of where you’re going to sleep. It’s only for a short while. And besides,” Harper added, slipping her hand under Granny James’s arm with a gentle squeeze. “I want you close to me, Granny. So we can have lots and lots of chats about the wedding.”
Granny James smiled weakly and patted her granddaughter’s hand. She really had no choice but to appease the bride after such a tender declaration.
Harper guided Granny James to the front stairs. “You’ll love the room I’ve prepared for you. And it’s closer to the pool. I heated it already. Extravagant, perhaps, but if I know you, you’ll be swimming every day.”
Imogene cast a lingering glimpse at the cottage, but her final gaze rested on Marietta—and her eyes narrowed.
Men get caught up in the wedding whoopla, too. We women tend to forget that. They don’t talk much about it, pretend they don’t notice, but they do. They’re like little children—big ears that don’t miss a word.
Well, here we are,” Dora said, pushing open the door.
Atticus followed Dora into the three-bedroom condominium on Isle of Palms she was showing to him for rent. He’d decided to extend his stay and asked Dora to help him find a convenient place for short-term rental. He’d had enough of hotel living. Dora was thrilled to help, calling him one of her very first clients.
He stepped onto the tile of the condo into the great, wide-open room with the veranda beyond it. Two halls went from left to right but he was struck immediately by the wall of windows overlooking the ocean. The brilliant blue became its own glittering world and called to him. Ignoring the rest of the condo, he went directly to the sliding doors and pushed them open.
Atticus stretched his arms out to rest on the iron railing of the veranda. Before him the Atlantic Ocean filled the horizon as tender a blue as the sky. He breathed deep the cool, crisp air. “Now this is more like it.”
“Nothing like oceanfront.” Dora joined him on the veranda. “It’s pricey, but we’re moving into spring season. By summer, whew.” She lifted her hand for emphasis. “The rents go sky-high. You’re also getting a good deal,” she told him sotto voce. “This happens to be my first listing. The owner wants to sell so he only wants short-term rentals.”
Atticus watched the waves roll in, soft and gentle, to the delight of the two lone male swimmers standing knee-deep in the chilly water. Atticus had to laugh. “Look at them. It is so damn cold out there, but those two young bucks are hell-bent to get their money’s worth and go surfing.” Behind them, two girls, shivering in bikinis, egged them on. “They’re probably trying to impress the ladies.”
“Coming from the North, it feels warm to them.”
Atticus noted a volleyball net farther up the beach with more young guys battling in a game and more girls shivering in bikinis watching. He wondered if the volleyball net was open to the public.
“We call this area Front Beach. Everything you need is here. Shops, restaurants. And you’re close to Sea Breeze.”
Clusters of people were on the beach, some in swimsuits, some in jackets. He pointed to a young family walking along the shoreline gathering shells. They looked like a family of ducks, Mama carrying the bucket and leading the three little ones, Dad bringing up the rear. “Families come, too?”
“Oh, Lord, yes. We’re a family beach.” Dora turned to look at Atticus. “Are you close to your family?”
The truth that she was his family lay at the tip of his tongue. It would be so easy to tell her the truth now, he thought. So natural. But he’d promised Marietta he would wait. “Both my parents are dead.”
“Oh, no! I’m so sorry.”
“I was close to my mother. But to be fair, both my parents provided me with a safe home, a great education, and supported my ambitions.” He smiled and, crossing his arms akimbo, leaned against the railing. “Even if neither understood my love of sports. They were more academic,” he explained, remembering their efforts to show up and cheer at his games. “My mother didn’t speak sports. I’m pretty sure she didn’t know the difference between a basketball net and a hockey net.” He shrugged. “And then they were gone.”